Lewis Carroll’s classic stories “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass” are combined in Burton’s latest box-office smash. This version is about a 19-year-old Alice Kingsleigh (Mia Wasikowska) in Victorian London. She is about to be married off to an English lord, but wants to make her own decisions and dreams of being more than someone’s wife. On the day of her engagement party, she spies the White Rabbit, who was sent to find Alice and bring her back to Wonderland to fight the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter).
Alice once again follows him down a rabbit hole and finds herself encountering all of Wonderland’s zany characters for the second time. She’s convinced that this is all a dream, but the Wonderland inhabitants know better and have to convince her that she is “the” Alice, not simply “an” Alice. They know that only she can defeat the evil Red Queen and her pet Jabberwocky and restore the crown to the White Queen (Anne Hathaway).
This film had all the pieces to make an amazing movie. Burton’s twisted mind with Carroll’s fantastical story should have been a no-brainer, right? Cast an unknown as the title character and surround her with a cast of talented actors: Alan Rickman, Crispin Glover, Hathaway, Bonham Carter, and Johnny Depp should have been a recipe for success, right? Then why didn’t this movie work?
Maybe it’s because the movie is called “Alice in Wonderland” and stars Johnny Depp. Or perhaps it’s because Burton overuses the CGI like a 5-year-old with a shiny new toy that he can’t put down. It could be because Depp can’t remember what movie he’s in or decide whether he’s the Mad Hatter, Jack Sparrow, or some random Scotsman seeking revenge for his clan. Possibly, it’s because Burton and Depp knew that no matter what they did, it would make millions and decided to just phone this one in so they could spend more time counting their money.
Faults aside (and there are many), “Alice” does have some redeeming qualities. The Cheshire Cat is brilliant and, although the CGI is overused, the vanishing effects only enhance the character. Cheshire, voiced by Stephen Fry, is funny, interesting, and steals every scene he’s in (which is hard to do when you’re an invisible cat). Crispin Glover’s performance as the Knave of Hearts is also unexpectedly great. He didn’t seem to get the same memo about over-acting that the rest of the cast did; he was under the impression that this movie was going to be good.
And if Burton knows anything, it’s how to create a distinctive aesthetic look and feel for a movie. His Wonderland is visually stunning. The man knows how to create completely unbelievable worlds that you think might exist somewhere in reality.
All in all, the movie wasn’t horrible, just unimpressive. If you enjoy Burton films you’re going to go see “Alice in Wonderland” no matter what. I would only caution you to refrain from expecting too much. In the Tim Burton canon, I’d rank this somewhere between “Mars Attacks!” and “Big Fish.”
Oh, and if anyone knows how a raven is like a writing desk, could you please let me know?! It’s driving me mad.